Monday, October 03, 2011

Pipilotti Rist: Eyeball Massage

Long overdue, Pipilotti Rist's retrospective at the Hayward Gallery is a bit of a tonic for the stressed Londoner. Approaching the gallery from Waterloo Bridge, one's first glimpse is of pants rustling in the wind. A bit of typical whimsy from Rist, this piece, Enlighted Hips, introduces the viewer to the artist's preoccupation with the body, as well as her sense of humour.

Once inside, one can feel immediately overwhelmed: to one side, huge, overlapping installations, to the other, a darkened room crammed full of videos, searching spotlights and diaphanous enclosures. What's it all about? Unless one can read the small guide in the dark (I couldn't) or memorise the map on the wall (ditto), one might be a bit clueless as to the titles.

But, in the end it didn't much matter. I wandered, crouched, poked my head through a hole, lay on some cushions shaped like clothing-covered body parts and slowly, slowly relaxed into the vibe. It's the most artistic chill-out space ever.

The three-screen installation, Lobe of the Lung, in particular, found a host of visitors reclining on cushions (not especially comfortable, it must be said), their forms doubled by the mirrors behind them. I leant against the mirror and then found my view blocked by an arriving mother with child and pram in tow. It's the first time I've ever been obstructed at a gallery by a pram. "Ooh, piggies," cooed the child. Not sure how Mummy explained the vaginas.

Ah, yes, the vaginas. Rist is especially attracted to the female form, zooming her mini-cameras around her own body, to depict menstrual blood and close-up views of the pudenda. But, her take on it is less biological than the body-centred art of 1970s feminism. Rist views the body as landscape, and she intersperses her internal visuals with plants, flowers, all spewed out in such bright colours as to appear psychedelic, with equally far out titles: one video is called Pimple Porn.

Interestingly, for all the explicit female bodies on display, the only advisory comes upstairs in the Project Space, where a sign warns of male nudity on show. Hypocrisy in art? Surely not. Cool videos, though, especially her early work, Ever Is Over All. The glee with which she smashes those car windows. It's infectious.

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